I've been thinking quite a bit about why people are so obsessed with productivity. I imagine when retiring to bed at night, having had a productive day brings some sense of satisfaction.
satisfaction /satɪsˈfakʃ(ə)n /noun: fulfilment of one's wishes, expectations, or needs, or the pleasure derived from this.
I find the part which says "or the pleasure derived from this" quite interesting. Could one derive pleasure from an unproductive day? For sure. Does productivity look and mean the same to everyone? Don't think so.
What does it mean for me?
I am not too sure, to be honest. It looks different on different days. From writing code to reading. From making music to writing. It could be anything. What I've started to notice now is that if I'm mindful about what I am doing, I am generally able to derive a lot of satisfaction from it. When I mindlessly keep doing something for a long time, for example, being sucked in by YouTube, I start feeling terrible by the end of the day. So it's not the what that matters, it's more of the how.
To experiment with this idea, I've been setting away some time regularly to watch some good movies.
- Taxi Driver
- The Godfather 1,2 & 3
- I, Daniel Blake
I've never been a big movie buff but I am starting to enjoy them more now. A good movie can have the same effect as playing a sport. You're transported into a different world for a while and you come out feeling great.
Interleaving such "fun activities" with what I consider "productive activities" has started to give me more energy. It motivates me to do the things I want to do and gives me time to relax. By now, I'm pretty sure that energy and motivation come to me in bursts. Noticing this and working with this idea has given me a lot of mental space.
During the "bursts", I do several Pomodoros and take short breaks in between. I want to maximize focus and minimize distractions. My silver bullet strategy is to enable the do not disturb mode on the laptop and my phone. I did have some difficulty focussing initially but with practice and meditation, I've been able to regain some of that lost ability that mindless smartphone usage + social media have been destroying since 2012.
Work from home gives me several extra hours each day that I can use to my liking. I don't have to worry about getting ready for work in the morning and I feel less exhausted after work as I don't have to travel in the evening. I must add that I am lucky to be a programmer who gets to keep his job during the COVID-19 crisis. Even with all the communication issues, productivity has gone up significantly in the last few weeks.
Procrastination complements Deep Work
I'm starting to think that most of my work, including programming, is more of art than science. To get the best ideas for creative problem solving, I need to let my brain shift from L-Mode to R-Mode. This means taking that walk before jumping on a solution. Waiting overnight at times or sometimes even months.
Procrastination has worked quite well for me. I have gone from someone who used to think "I never get any ideas" to being too busy to pursue all my ideas. Prioritization is a different beast that I want to write about some other time.
For more, I recommend:
- Andy Hunt's phenomenal book, Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor your Wetware.
- Rich Hickey's Hammock Driven Development.
- That very popular TED Talk by Tim Urban.
- Last but not the least, Deep Work by Cal Newport
So; I'm trying to break my habit of optimizing for productivity. There's a lot of beauty and freedom in being raw. My advice is to enjoy the process and take it easy. I will end this with the evergreen quote:
All models are wrong, but some are useful. - George Box